One application of the Imperfective Verb Form… by the BUNPŌ BUSHI!

In the last post I wrote about the Attributive Verb Form (rentaikei 連体形). This post is about the Imperfective Verb Form (mizenkei 未然形) and it’s application to forming the Passive Voice. 

I can’t believe how many “kitten and snail” images there are on the internet! Truly a universal haiku… Bravo Saimaro!

This post’s example poem comes from an Edo period (1600-1868) haiku poet, Shiinomoto Saimaro 椎本才麿 (1656-1738). Also, the haiku features a kitten, so I’m hoping this post gets a lot of hits~!

Saimaro is a contemporary of the famous Matsuo Bashō 松尾芭蕉 (1644–1694), but which one have YOU heard of before? I’m guessing not Saimaro.

Here’s Saimaro’s poem:

猫の子に 嗅がれてゐるや 蝸牛
neko no ko ni / kagarete-iru ya / katatsumuri

My translation:

Aww… it’s getting
sniffed by a kitty cat!
A land snail

I could only get to 14 syllables with this translation. It’s hard to get it to 17 syllables without taking too many liberties with the interpretation. I stretched the ya や into “aww,” which I count as two syllables; was able to turn kitten (2 syllables) into “kitty cat” (3); and snail (1) into “land snail” (2).

Passive Voice:

Imperfective verbs on their own indicate that the action has “not yet been realized,” as the kanji for “imperfective,” or mizen 未然, suggests. However, the root of the verb in Imperfective Form also gets us to the passive voice.

The main verb in this haiku is kagu 嗅ぐ (to sniff/ smell/ get a whiff of something). In order to make this a passive situation you must put kagu into the Imperfective Form, then attach the Passive Voice suffix -ru ~る. This will give us “the snail is being sniffed by the kitten” rather than, “the kitten is sniffing the snail.”

To do this, first kagu needs to be changed to the Imperfect Form by inflecting the ~u sound to an ~a sound, making it kaga 嗅が.  Now, the Passive Voice suffix –ru can be joined to it making the Passive Voice kagaru.

If it were at the end of the sentence, then this would be all you need to do. But, as you can see, it appears as kagarete-iru in the haiku, not as kagaru. The reason for this is that it is in the Passive Voice and Present Continuous Tense, which can be a topic for a later post. For now, just identify the fact that the Imperfective Form (mizenkei 未然形) is needed to make a verb passive.

Translator’s notes:

I was surprised to find that the kanji for the name of the snail (katatsumuri 蝸牛) is also read as kagyū and is the name of a part of the inner ear, the Cochlea. If you Google-image it or click here, you can see that the part of the ear looks snail-y.

Also, I wrote “land snail” because there are thousands of species of snails, hundreds just in Japan alone. So many things in Japanese culture are connected to the sea, so this very well could be a sea snail (think: the cat is by the sea or on a dock), however, katatsumuri specifically indicates a land snail not a sea snail.

The Seasonal Word (kigo 季語) is snail!

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